A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Once Upon A Time Challenge #3)

My copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet is yellow with age. The copyright date is 1982, and I discovered that I had bracketed certain passages in a bright pink Flair when I first read it 25 years ago.

The past few days have shown me how swiftly tilting the world can be; since Friday, May 25, my world has turned upside down. I began the school year with a son to whom I felt incredibly close. I end the year with the same son being diagnosed ADHD, with some unknown depressive component, and a suspension for drinking vodka given to him by a fellow student. The planet tilted swiftly all right, at least for me.

It’s funny how several times in my life I’ve gone through a small crisis, and Madeleine L’Engle’s words have brought huge comfort. It happened with this book, too.

We find the echthroi again, first introduced to us in “Wind in The Door.” When Charles Wallace first rides on a unicorn named Gaudior, which is Latin for “more joyful,” Gaudior tells him:

“We have to be careful of Echthroi,” Gaudior warned. “They try to ride the wind and throw us off course.”

“Echthroi-” Charles Wallace’s eyes clouded. “That means the enemy.”

“Echthroi,” Gaudior repeated. “The ancient enemy. He who distorted the harmony, and who has gathered an army of destroyers. They are everywhere in the universe.”

Charles Wallace felt a ripple of cold move along his spine.

“Hold my mane,” the unicorn advised. “There’s always the possibility of encountering an Echthros, and if we do, it’ll try to unseat you.” (p. 47 in my Dell copy, which cost $2.50 in 1982).

Did you catch that last line? “It’ll try to unseat you.” Those words struck at the very core of me; I have rarely felt so “unseated” as I have this week. Once again, fantasy is not so far from reality, at least for me.

Charles Wallace is given an ancient rune by Meg’s mother in law. It reads as follows:

“At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!”

While Meg kythes with Charles Wallace from her attic bedroom, he must go Within other people in different times and different places, to stop an evil outcome from occurring. Each time, one aspect of the rune is revealed. It’s time travel, yes, but there are also fantasy elements with the unicorn, the echthroi, the Projections they are able to place in Charles’ way, and the life sustaining powers of the Wind.

Madeleine imparts a final lesson for me when Charles Wallace apologizes for trying to force himself and Gaudior to another destination than the one planned:

“I feel all the better for a nap. Gaudior, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For making you try to get us to Patagonia. If I hadn’t, we might not have been nearly killed by the Echthroi.”

“Apology accepted,” Gaudior said briskly. “Have you learned?”

“I’ve learned that every time I’ve tried to control things we’ve had trouble. I don’t know what we ought to do now, or Where or When we ought to go from here. I just don’t know…”

You may choose to pick up this book for the fantasy. For finding further adventures with Charles Wallace and his sister Meg. But, the things I take away with me, from reading this book, are:

1. Don’t allow yourself to be unseated.
2. Don’t be under the impression that it is possible to control things.

Thanks again, Madeleine.

12 thoughts on “A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Once Upon A Time Challenge #3)”

  1. What an excellent couple of things you took from this book. I have to read more of her work. You've definitely inspired me to. All I've read is A Wrinkle in Time and it's one of my favorites.Isn't it funny how certain books, certain passages, certain coincidences choose to peek their heads in at certain points in life. Sounds like Ms. L'engle has been there throughout yours, eh? Wishing you all the best…hope everything starts to fall into it's place soon.


  2. I have often found comfort from the many wonderful books by L'Engle. I read A Circle of Quiet at least every two or three years – I think it helps prevent me from becoming unseated too often.Wishing you the best.


  3. Suziqoregon, in my case, I need more than occasional reminders! Why is that word so hard to spell? I always want to put in two 's's as well…thanks for your positive thoughts. I did receive them. ;)Chris, you are always so perceptive in your comments (and faithful to come visit me). You epitomized what I feel Madeleine's writings have done for me in my life. Things are already to start to fall into place; we're very encouraged because my son has an outstanding job at a small (but exceptional) grocery store in our huge (and superficial) town. I still am keeping you in mind as a resource to discuss medications etc. should we come to that point for his diagnosis. If you're still willing to discuss this with me.Darla D, thanks for stopping by! I agree, A Circle of Quiet helps me from becoming unseated as well. What a great way to incorporate what I described in your comment!California teacher guy, I was perhaps speaking to you but engraving in capital letters to myself. I constantly find myself trying to control what is out of my realm to control, as if I pictured myself to be omnipotent. Somehow. You'd think I'd have learned by now to trust more and fight circumstances less. I guess we're on a journey, right?


  4. Chris, I assume you know what I meant when I typed this illiterate phrase: things are already to start to fall into place…Today was Field Day, in 92 degree heat (I kid you not) and frankly, I'm too tired to proofread. In case no one could tell. 🙂


  5. :p Of course Bellezza. I'm here to talk to if your considering meds, but also if your son just wants someone to talk to who's been through something similar. I don't know how he's taking it, but for me…I thought it was the end of the world. But it turned out fine. Same goes to you. I really feel like y'all are reliving the end of my junior year of high school…it's like the twilight zone.


  6. Chris, I'll let him know. I remember reading that your 'incident' changed your life in a positive way. I think that by going to see the police, going to court, taking his finals when the suspension was over and all his friends are gone, seeing his mother cry (unwillingly before him) is having an effect on him. Hopefully it will be enough to issue a positive change for him as well. I guess the hardest part for me is not knowing how much is just being sixteen years old, and how much is a picture of things to come.


  7. I don't know much of y'alls situation at all, but if it's any consolation at all, I really think a BIG part of it is just being 16. It's almost good if a big thing like this happens at this age and he gets caught and gets this big reaction. That might stop him. Who knows where it may have gone to if he wouldn't have gotten caught. God's looking out for him. Trust me…looking back 10 years on when I "got caught"…it's one of the best days of my life. I was a good person back then who was doing some stupid things to fit in and heading down a wrong path. Someone turned me the right way…I think the same thing might have happened with your son. Talk about your divine intervention. The picture of things to come might be brighter than what you think. I still had a few trials and tribulations after that, but I definitely started to head to the right direction and 10 years later, I proud of where I ended up. I'm wishing you and your son the same.


  8. Beautiful review. I'm going right out to buy the rest of this series. I only have A Wrinkle in Time.I love it when a book helps you get perspective.


  9. Chris, you hit the nail on the head with this sentence: "I was a good person back then who was doing some stupid things to fit in and heading down a wrong path."That's exactly it! My son IS a good person, we both know it, and he's almost embarrassed he's not "tough". I am tryint to teach him that being tough doesn't mean being wrong; good guys are tougher than evil guys any day of the week. Ultimately. But, it's a journey I think he's going to have to discover for himself. Framed, I've not read all of the series in one go like this, as I am for the Once Upon A Time Challenge. It's really neat to read them all in a row. One of thte main reasons I love to read is either for the story/plot (as in a mystery/thriller) or for the perspective I gain from an author. You are so right!


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